No matter where you are in your journey – whether you’re a starving artist, a fresh-faced uni student or a corporate climber – we know you’ll feel inspired by Tim Penner’s words.
Oh, and his music is pretty great too…
D: What are you most excited for this year?
T: The last few years have culminated into this year.
I’ve been releasing on John Fleming’s label for about three years now. He’s been my hero forever, and now he’s my mentor and my peer, and together we’ve come to the conclusion that this is a turning point moment. We’re going to keep pushing the whole progressive trance scene globally.
So, I have a whole lot of music that I’ve been stockpiling that’s shaping up for right around when I’ll be visiting in October. I’m working on the last few tracks of an album, and I have a baby boy on the way for November.
Everything is really, really good right now; I think that translates to myself and others around me.
D: It’s interesting you say that because there seems to be a myth that to produce good work you must be a tortured soul, that suffering produces the best art?
T: I’ve been in dark places in my past, which has helped shaped me as a man and a person. But I moved into a new life a few years ago when I found positivity, sharing and my own vulnerability. I became more whole and because of that I became stronger and better at music. That’s why on my radio show I share anecdotes, advice and inspiring moments. To me, the electronic music scene was filled with a darker tone, which I do appreciate, but now I want to share a positive light in this world.
D: Speaking of positivity and sunshine, have you played any Australian festivals before, what do you think it will be like?
T: This is my first time in Australia. I’m very excited about it!
I think the festivals and the music scene in Australia is really thriving – especially progressive and trance. So I am really excited to push those boundaries. And, you guys have also been doing a really amazing job in terms of the music scene where I live in Toronto.
Australians are Commonwealth as are we Canadians and I’ve always felt an attachment to you in that way. It’s just colder here, and you guys have bigger more dangerous creatures.
D: What does an average day in the world of Tim Penner look like?
T: Hmmm, an average week would be spent mostly working at home. I prefer my own space.
Every day is a little different because you don’t know when the creativity will come. I may want to make music one day, but I try for two hours and it’s not coming so I have to do something else.
Some days that’s doing Slideways Sessions in my studio, other days it’s working on my own music, other days I’m working on A&R for the label.
My days are inconsistent; they’re different. That’s part of the reason I love this job.
D: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your job?
T: I think some younger kids go to a festival or nightclubs and look to the DJ and say, “That’s what I want to do with my life!”
But they don’t realise just how deeply difficult becoming a professional is. I started a long time ago, and while the business has changed drastically, it has always been extremely hard.
Even when I thought I knew what I was doing, a couple of years later I realised how wrong I was.
And, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye: You do need to understand the music and sound engineering, but that’s not even touching on social media, graphic design, media work, networking, finding gigs… it’s a massive whirling ball that you need to know every part of. And that’s impossible, but we live, we learn, we grow, we keep trying and that’s it.
D: It sounds like being a DJ is actually a lot like running a small business…
T: I knew when I was about 18 or 19 that the regular school life was not for me. I knew I didn’t want to go to university for example, but I also knew I needed life experience, so I decided to start a business in something I liked. In 1999 I started a web development company. I figured out what I needed to do and I made that happen. I was an entrepreneur and a freelancer very young, and I learned how to do things as I went.
Similarly, as an artist, it’s all on you to succeed. Nobody is going to feel bad if you don’t make it. You can tell people how much you want it, but twenty years down the track it only matters to you if you actually went and did it.
Everybody wants it, but how bad do you want it? It is so much harder than people expect when they get into it… I hope I don’t sound too negative.
D: Don’t worry, our audience responds quite well to a bit of cynicism. One of our most popular articles is titled, “New Survey Shows 100% of Doofers Agree The Scene Was Better When They First Started”.
T: That’s true though – of every scene, everywhere. Nothing will ever be the same as it once was.
In this scene, you get the jaded old DJs that think you aren’t a DJ unless you learned to play on vinyl. There are a lot of these older generation DJs that are too cool and too chic for their own good, and they haven’t kept up with the times.
I used to dig my heels in a lot. When there was a transition from vinyl to CDs, I used to debate with my DJ friends and say that if it’s not vinyl then it’s not analogue so it’s not real DJing. But when you dig your heels in you can’t move forward. It took me years to realise that.
Now, let me also add that I don’t agree with DJs that just download Traktor and play track to track to track. If you’re going to use a technology use it to the best of your ability and be great with it. Nowadays everybody can be a writer, everybody can be a DJ, everybody can be a photographer, but it doesn’t mean they’re great. Learn it, learn it the right way and learn to think outside the box. Learn to strengthen and contribute to the scene.
D: What is the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?
T: The hardest thing I face is the frustration of not knowing what is next. Discipline and patience are really hard to master, but you’ll never know how close you were if you give up.
D: Do DJs stereotype their audiences?
T: I try to read the audience before I play. I stand at the side and watch them. Every city is a little different. Sometimes you get a feeling they like it harder or sometimes they want it more melodic, but you really don’t know until you get up there. It’s not about stereotyping or judging, it is about how to get into their heads – make that connection, make them one with you and your music.
D: To me, going to a nightclub more than once every three months could be classed as a form of torture. What is it that you love about the experience?
T: The nightclubs I like the most are like Bahrein in Argentina. This club is all about progressive house, and everybody comes for the same reason. They may come as groups, but they aren’t there as groups. They’re there to dance. They don’t pay attention to anyone else, they’re just in the music. The feeling of a basement club like that is just unbelievable. They aren’t going there to pick up; they aren’t going to bump and grind. If you don’t do it for the music, legitimately, your nightclub is just a noisy building.
If we are going to go down the cynical path, I don’t go to top forty or popular hip-hop clubs. It’s there you’ll find those stereotypes of people who don’t know the DJs or even the type of music they’re listening to, they just want to be seen. I’ve worked very hard not to be associated with those groups because it reminds me of high school.
Back in high school, I wasn’t a cool kid or a bad kid either; I just floated between all the groups. I didn’t want what the cool kids had; I didn’t want to be looked down at because I didn’t know what was cool.
That’s part of the reason I said yes to Elements Festival. I keep watching their video again and again and everyone at Elements looks so genuine. They’re there for the presentation, the music, and the culture the festival stands for. When I get to experience a festival like this where everyone comes together, I’m in the best place in the world.
We have a festival called Eclipse here which seems to have a similar vibe to Elements.When I played at Eclipse, I had this big realisation moment that it’s not even about the DJ. The music is this tribal heartbeat that calls the tribe together. It’s the like-mindedness of the music that pulls people in, and once you’re in that heartbeat, you can experience it all. The music is just the blood running through the veins.
D: What is your biggest worry right now?
T: My biggest fear is “When am I going to hit that creative plateau?”
I worry there will be a day when I look back on the last track, and I think, “How am I going to do better than that?”
I have worked with artists in the past that can’t get back that magic that they once had – they are struggling to keep staying relevant – both emotionally and economically. It could be a change of the times, or it could be a change in them. They end up doing questionable things to get noticed and then they have to just go away even though they still have so much potential.
I think in every artist’s life there is going to be a plateau. That’s my struggle. And as much as I fear the plateau, I am constantly pushing my own limits, trying to find where mine begins.
D: I guess the whole notion of the artistic plateau is influenced by how you define success. Is it by how many people listen to your work? Is it by how much money you make? Is it by how personally pleased you are with your creations?
T: I think there’s a lot of people who decide they want to DJ but they soon realise they actually have to start making music, being a DJ alone doesn’t cut it any more. You have to create to be successful.
But if you’re making music just to make yourself successful, it doesn’t work. If you’re not doing it to make yourself happy, you’ve got it the wrong way around. I DJ because I want to share the music I create with people, some people DJ because they want to be in the spotlight.
For those people, there’s a panic moment where they’ll say ”Shit I can’t make music, I need to do that!” So they get a ghost producer or they half-ass it and get frustrated. There’s a successful market for people who need that, but for me, I don’t want that. If I ever do it for the wrong reasons, that is the day that I quit.
D: If you could recommend one single track to someone who hasn’t heard any of your work, what would it be?
T: One of my favourites is a remix I did of Max Graham song called Airtight. The original was released in 2000 on In Search of Sunrise when Tiesto was the be all and end all. Fifteen years later I got to remix it, and that to me was the epitome of keeping a track pure but present and in the moment.